NFL Mock Draft 2018: Lamar Jackson falls to Cardinals, Quenton Nelson drops to Bears
Less-hyped prospects are great value as Cards grab QB at No. 15 and Bears watch stud guard fall after QB run
For as much attention as Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, and Saquon Barkley have gotten this draft season, two other can't-miss prospects might end up stealing the show when we look back at this draft in five or so years.
Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson might just be the best prospect available. Odds are, at least a few of the teams that are going to pass on him for a quarterback will be kicking themselves for ignoring a sure-fire prospect after their quarterback never develops into the franchise savior they thought he'd become. They might even be more angry after another quarterback, taken much later in the first round, develops into a starting-caliber quarterback. I'm talking about Louisville's Lamar Jackson, who has been because of the top-heavy nature of the quarterback class and because there are pundits out there who think his skill set can't translate to the NFL, which doesn't make much sense to me considering we're in an era of offensive football that seemingly prioritizes athleticism at the quarterback position. I'm not saying that Jackson is a better prospect than the four quarterbacks listed above, but I am saying it might make more sense for a quarterback-needy team situated outside the top 10 (like the Bills and Cardinals) to wait for Jackson rather than trading away a fortune to move up to take Mayfield or Rosen.
In this iteration of my mock draft, I decided to take a look at the best destinations for both of those players. Let's start with Nelson.
The 6-foot-5, 329-pound guard out of Notre Dame has been compared to Larry Allen (an 11-time Pro Bowler) and Steve Hutchinson (a seven-time Pro Bowler). An NFC team personnel executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein that Nelson is "one of the best run blockers I've ever evaluated, but he's not a liability in pass protection." That same executive called Nelson an "alpha who can bring (an) a-- kicking mindset into your position room." In other words, he might be a perfect offensive guard prospect.
There's not a team in the league that couldn't use Nelson on its roster. Wherever he winds up, he'll likely develop into the player many think he'll become. But there's one destination in particular that truly seems like a perfect fit for both team and player. That team is the Chicago Bears.
The Bears cut weight this offseason by releasing a handful of solid veteran contributors, including four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. So, an opening on their offensive line exists. The Bears also need to make offensive line a priority after watching post a 48.7 passer rating under pressure in his rookie season, which ranked 34th out of 40 qualified quarterbacks, per Pro Football Focus. They've already done well to give Trubisky Now, it's time to solidify his protection. Finally, as a part of their coaching overhaul, the Bears went out and hired Harry Hiestand as their offensive line coach. Hiestand is coming off a six-year run with Notre Dame, where he coached ... you guessed it, Nelson.
The only problem is, it seems unlikely that Nelson will fall to the Bears, a team that has watched players like Aaron Donald and Melvin Ingram get selected one pick before they were on the clock in recent drafts. But it's not impossible. After a 5-11 season, the Bears sit at No. 8 in the draft order. There's a very good chance that four of the first seven picks will be quarterbacks. There's also a very good chance that another pick will be used on running back Saquon Barkley. When you put it that way, the idea begins to take shape. But all it takes is one team to ruin the Bears' dreams. Below, you'll find a plausible way that sees Nelson falling to the Bears. If you want to see how a scenario that involves the Bears trading up to land Nelson would play out, .
As for Jackson, I don't think there's a chance in hell he'll be taken above Darnold, Allen, Rosen, and Mayfield, which rules out the Browns (who'll take a QB at No. 1), Jets (who'll take a QB at No. 3), and Broncos (who will take a QB at No. 5). That leaves two likely destinations for Jackson: Buffalo and Arizona. Both teams signed bridge quarterbacks this offseason (AJ McCarron and Sam Bradford), but both are lacking quarterbacks to lead them into the future. I decided to mock Jackson to the Cardinals -- not the Bills -- because I think the Bills, with all of their draft picks, are going to trade up to take one of the big-four quarterbacks. They hold the 12th and 22nd overall picks, which means they could, in theory, send both of those to a team like the Colts, If they did that, they'd probably pick Mayfield -- not Jackson -- at No. 6.
If you're wondering why the Bills would trade from No. 12 to No. 6 when teams slotted in from No. 7 to No. 11 have more urgent needs than quarterback, just look at what happened last year wheneven though the 49ers probably weren't going to take a quarterback at No. 2. They made that move fearing another team moving ahead of them to steal Trubisky. The Bills could fear the same thing. After all, the quarterback-needy Cardinals are lurking just behind them in the draft order. In this mock draft, the Bills move up to take Mayfield while the Cardinals watch Jackson fall to them at No. 15. In Arizona, Jackson can sit behind Sam Bradford before joining an offense that includes David Johnson. Meanwhile, the Cardinals get their quarterback without having to pay a steep price for him. Who knows, Jackson might even end up being better than one or two of the quarterbacks at the top of the class.
OK, let's get to the entire first round.
1. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. Didn't you hear? Darnold is allegedly half John Elway, half Jesus after his performance at a rainy (gasp!) Pro Day. The Browns are almost certainly going quarterback with their first pick. So, they make Darnold their future franchise savior. I have some serious gripes with Darnold, but as far as I can tell, the NFL community has decided that it's either Darnold or Josh Allen (someone I also have a ton of gripes with) atop the quarterback leaderboard.
2. New York Giants
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. It's been really tough to figure out how new Giants GM Dave Gettleman is going to play this. When he took the job, I was convinced he'd go with a quarterback at No. 2 as he prepared to move on from Eli Manning. But Gettleman hasn't given a single indication that he thinks the Giants need to rebuild by drafting a new franchise quarterback. Furthermore, signals that they're ready to take Chubb here to bolster their diminished pass rush. I think there's still a chance the Giants will try to trade out of this spot, but in this version, nobody is willing to offer them enough. A team like the Bills would love to move up here, but they're sitting too far away for the Giants to take their offer seriously. So, they draft Chubb to replace JPP. They could do a lot worse than him.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis)
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. The Jets traded up to take a quarterback. So, that's what they do. Allen might need some time to develop, but he's in a good spot to do that with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater already in New York.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston)
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. The Bills try to make a move up to No. 4, but the Browns aren't interested in moving out of the top 10. They take Barkley, who might be a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott. Suddenly, the Browns' future looks very bright. In the short-term, the idea of pairing Tyrod Taylor with Barkley is enticing.
5. Denver Broncos
6. Bills (via mock trade with Colts (from New York Jets))
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Colts aren't done trading down, finding another quarterback-needy trade partner in the Bills, who signed AJ McCarron after trading away Tyrod Taylor but still need a long-term answer at quarterback. Mayfield might actually be the top quarterback in the draft so the Bills are more than happy to take him. Meanwhile, with bundles of draft picks (the Colts acquired both of the Bills' first-round picks in addition to No. 53), Colts GM Chris Ballard can build an actual team around Andrew Luck.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama. The Buccaneers' defense finished dead-last in DVOA a season ago. In Fitzpatrick, the Buccaneers get a versatile defensive back who is seventh overall on Chris Trapasso's big board. Plus, they now have on their team.
8. Chicago Bears
9. San Francisco 49ers
10. Oakland Raiders
Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia. This is my third mock draft and every time I've had Smith landing with the Raiders, who desperately need defensive help. They get exactly that in Smith, who seems to be the consensus top linebacker in the draft. For all of the talk about how Jon Gruden will fix the Raiders' offense, the defense needs to be his top priority.
11. Miami Dolphins
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. This one's a bit obvious given the Dolphins decided to cut one the game's best defensive tackles in Ndamukong Suh. Hurst looked like a sure-fire first-rounder until However, . So his stock shouldn't be affected.
12. Indianapolis Colts (via mock trade with Bills (from Cincinnati))
Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College. Finally, after trading back multiple times, the Colts are on the clock. They begin by adding a pass-rusher in Landry who finished with 16.5 sacks in 2016. The Colts ranked second-to-last in sacks a year ago.
13. Washington Redskins
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. Earlier this week, On top of that list? Nose tackle, which is where Vea comes into play. " , throw an offensive lineman to the side and make an impact tackle near the line of scrimmage," Trapasso wrote in December. That works.
14. Green Bay Packers
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. The Packers need cornerbacks even after signing Tramon Williams in free agency considering where they reside: the NFC North. The Lions have an underrated receiving corps, the Bears signed Allen Robinson, and the Vikings have an unstoppable duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The Packers already parted ways with Damarious Randall. So, for a second straight year, the Packers use their first pick on a cornerback. This time, they're getting a cornerback who Zierlein compared to Chris Harris Jr.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. The Cardinals can't move up to grab a top-four quarterback, but they're more than OK settling for Jackson, who looks like a perfect quarterback for today's NFL. In Arizona, Jackson can sit behind Sam Bradford for a season (or less, considering Bradford's injury history). An offense helmed by Jackson and David Johnson could be downright scary in the years to come.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist. The Ravens missed out on Allen Robinson and while they did rebound by signing Michael Crabtree, they still need help at receiver a year after Mike Wallace led the team in receiving yards. In a bit of surprise, they pass on Calvin Ridley for Sutton, who averaged 16.5 yards per catch in his college career.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. The Chargers already have a special front seven with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram lining up on the outside. But the interior of the defensive line is a bit of weak spot. Plus, Corey Liuget just got hit with a four-game suspension. In Payne, the Chargers are getting a defensive tackle who, in the words of Zierlein, is "built like a wall of granite."
18. Seattle Seahawks
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. Suddenly after a busy offseason, the Seahawks have a lengthy list of needs, from cornerback to the defensive line to the offensive line. Here, in the aftermath of their decision to cut Richard Sherman, they decide to go cornerback with Jackson still available. He had eight interceptions last season alone.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The signings of Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson won't stop the Cowboys from adding another receiver as the Dez Bryant era appears to be nearing its end. Even if Bryant is still on the roster in 2018, the Cowboys need to give Dak Prescott more help. Receiver is still an area of need, especially with .
20. Detroit Lions
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. The Lions ranked 20th in sacks last year. Though they're bringing back Ezekiel Ansah on the franchise tag, they're still lacking a second capable pass rusher. Last year, Ansah was responsible for 12 sacks. Only one other player recorded more than five sacks (Anthony Zettel with 6.5). Enter: Davenport, who notched a career-high 8.5 sacks last season.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo)
22. Indianapolis Colts (via mock trade with Bills (from Kansas City))
Isaiah Wynn, OT, Georgia. After going with a pass rusher with the first of their two first-round picks courtesy of the Bills, the Colts try to rebuild an offensive line that allowed an NFL-high 56 sacks last year. Wynn is Trapasso's top-ranked tackle. The Colts are trying to win by rebuilding in the trenches.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise St. The Rams' defense is already downright scary after adding Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Ndamukong Suh this offseason. But why stop there? The Rams do need some linebackers after trading away Alec Ogletree, so they get one here.
24. Carolina Panthers
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP. They've got to replace Andrew Norwell, who got paid by Jacksonville in free agency. Hernandez -- Trapasso's second-ranked guard behind Nelson and, fittingly, his 24th-overall prospect -- can fill the void.
25. Tennessee Titans
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama -- Avery Williamson departed in free agency, so the Titans have a need at linebacker after they addressed other areas in free agency. Evans might be the last elite inside linebacker prospect on the board. He checks in as Trapasso's third-ranked inside linebacker behind Smith and Edmunds.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. Defensive tackle is one of the Falcons' biggest needs after Bryan had four sacks and six tackles for a loss in his final college season, and is Trapasso's second-ranked defensive tackle and 17th-ranked prospect overall.
27. New Orleans Saints
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State. I'm sticking with this pick. Even after re-signing Drew Brees, the Saints need to begin to prepare for life after him. Rudolph might have a bright future if he is brought along by the right coach. Sean Payton seems like that coach.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville. Defense, defense, defense. Sure, the Steelers have other needs like inside linebacker and safety, but they're not going to get a top prospect at either of those positions with the 28th pick. They can, however, get a starting-caliber cornerback in Alexander who can play alongside Joe Haden, Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton. They'll address those other areas later in the draft.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Marcedes Lewis is out, so the Jaguars make a move for the best tight end in this class. and Goedert, the Jaguars would boast one of the most intriguing young tight end tandems in football.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. Time to protect the quarterback they're paying all that money to. With Kirk Cousins signed, the Vikings make the offensive line a priority, landing a tackle who can start right away on the right side.
31. New England Patriots
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA. The Patriots also need offensive line help after losing Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming in free agency. Enter: Miller, who will slot in at left tackle to take on the pivotal job of keeping Tom Brady's blindside well protected.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU. The Eagles find their LeGarrette Blount replacement in Guice, who is a bruiser (he's been compared to Marshawn Lynch). Guice joins a committee that also includes Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, which gives the Eagles one of the most dynamic running back groups in football.
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